Two skateparks will be built in honor of Johnny Strange, cementing his legacy of passionate support for those in need
On October 1st, it will be a year since 23-year old adventurer and action sports enthusiast Johnny Strange passed away, BASE jumping in the Swiss Alps. In his twenty-three years, Johnny accomplished some incredible feats, and was well-known for his athleticism and compassion. The world was first introduced to Johnny after he became the youngest person on the planet to climb the Seven Summits. Johnny didn’t limit his passions to action sports. He cared deeply about various humanitarian efforts, and used his voice to inspire his peers to pay attention to what was going on in the world beyond their front door.
According to his father, Brian Strange, “Johnny saw what was happening in countries like Africa, and other countries like Nepal--the conditions in which people lived differently from him, and he read a lot about international crises, and people being treated unfairly. It was really dear to his heart, and he felt that he was using the attention from action sports to bring awareness to these causes to other kids his age--15, 16, 17 year olds-- that don’t tend to focus so much on them. He thought that by holding up signs, or making videos that brought attention, that would perhaps motivate kids to take an interest in these types of issues.”
His family plans to commemorate the day with the announcement of two skate parks to be built in his honor. One in Thimphu, Bhutan and one in his hometown of Malibu. Their hope is to honor his legacy and continue his message that younger generations hold the responsibility to make a difference in the world and to find passion in helping people.
Johnny Strange Skate Park in Thimphu, Bhutan:
Johnny spent time in Bhutan when he was invited to the visit the country to investigate climbing Gangkhar Puensumq, the highest unclimbed Mountain in the world. While the Bhutanese did not allow the climb, since the summit of the mountain is considered sacred, Johnny and his dad, Brian met with the King of Bhutan about how to motivate the young people of Bhutan. Johnny was involved in teaching Bhutanese youth how to skateboard, and working with the Prince of Bhutan on the Bhutanese Olympic Committee. The Royal Family of Bhutan has donated land for the skate park.
Johnny Strange Skate Park in Malibu, California:
The family has also committed to donating one million dollars in matching funds to build a second park in his hometown of Malibu. Johnny could often be found skating the Malibu canyons and LA freeways at incredibly high speeds. This park would provide a safe place for Malibu youth and their families to skate while showcasing the natural beauty of Malibu.
Transworld Business spoke with Johnny’s father, Brian Strange, about what made Johnny so special, his humanitarian efforts, and plans for the two skateparks that are to be built in Johnny’s honor.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How did Johnny get his start in action sports and climbing?
Johnny was always interested in action, starting when he was just little. He could barely walk and he was active, rolling and jumping off couches. He was always just a very active kid. And he had this amazing energy, and passion about him for all things outdoors, and frankly, for the underdog, too. He first started climbing when he was 12, Mt. Vinson in Antarctica. He was the youngest child to ever climb Antarctica. Now you have to be sixteen years old to even try, so that's a record that won't be broken.
Do you have a history in climbing yourself? Is that how Johnny got introduced to it?
Yes, I've been climbing for a long time and I actually had all my gear laid out to go to Antarctica, and he basically said, "Dad, I want to go climb with you. I can do it." And I didn't ever think he could summit, but I called the climbing company and made arrangements, and also just to have an experience with my son, and lo and behold he shot right up the mountain. I was amazed, and I think a lot of people were, too. He had a continuing passion to climb, and at the time, I was climbing the seven summits, and so he did them with me over the years. In 2009, he summited Everest with me, and became the youngest person in the world to climb the Seven Summits. He was 17 at the time.
That record has since been broken, but he went on from that to do all kinds of other action sports. But his passion for humanitarian things developed over time and through what he saw in countries like Africa and Nepal, the conditions in which people lived differently from him. He read a lot about international crises, and people being treated unfairly, and it was really dear to his heart. He felt like he was using the attention from action sports to bring awareness to these causes to kids, because usually kids --15, 16, 17 years old--don't focus as much on them. He thought that by holding up signs, or making videos that brought that attention to kids, that it would perhaps motivate them to take an interest in it.
That's a really wise observation, especially at such a young age. How was it being in Bhutan with him, when he was teaching the kids how to skateboard, and trying to get the message out there?
Well, he just loved those kids, and they had never seen a skateboard before. He thought it was great to show it to them, and they were super excited about it, so it was an all-around great experience for everyone. He had an overwhelming passion and smile and to those kids, it really made a difference. And it turns out, when Johnny and I were talking about climbing, the highest un-climbed mountain in the world is in Bhutan. The government doesn't let you climb it, because it’s sacred to them, and that didn't change. But what did change was the government wanted to motivate the kids, to get them more interested in the outdoors, and physical activity, and so Johnny was a great ambassador for that kind of goal. He ended up working over there for 6 months in Bhutan as part of the Olympic committee, and so that's why the skateparks mean so much, because skating is going to be in the Olympics in 2020. By building a skate park in Johnny's name, we get to have a connection with the Olympics, and the connection with the kids in Bhutan, including them in the outdoors, and just the motivation to learn more. It’s all coming together.
When will the skate park in Bhutan be opening? Has construction begun?
Construction has not begun. This weekend, on October 2, the day after the one year mark of Johhny's death, my wife and I are taking a couple of builders and designers from California Skate Parks, who are the preeminent company that has built skate parks all over the world, to come look at the property. We've already been given the property by the royal family, so we're going to do a site visit, and we're going to try and talk to the contractors, and see what local materials would be best to build the park. It's the beginning of the process. Bhutan is highly motivated to make it happen; we’re just figuring out timing. The skatepark will be part of an overall recreation park.
That's great. You're also planning to build a skatepark in Malibu, correct?
We've donated a million dollars to a matching fund to build the park in Malibu, and the city council is moving forward with it, but as of now there's no commitment as to when construction on that will start. But we're hopeful we can begin the process soon.
For other people that are interested, are there any websites or resources where they can go to support Johnny or learn more?
There is a website, for Johnny. It’s the Facebook page Johnny Strange. And in terms of the skatepark, we're going to post a link to support that project to that site, as well.
Any final thoughts?
I really appreciate the support for Johnny. It's part of what I want to do for his legacy--keep it out there, and hopefully get other children motivated to help. I think it's just a question of motivating people to help. I hope getting the message out there will be an inspiration for other kids.